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Ex-Michigan star Desmond Howard signs multi-year extension with ESPN's 'College GameDay'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

One thing Desmond Howard loves about working on ESPN’s GameDay is the ability to discuss not only the X’s and O’s of college football, but also the issues surrounding the game.

Whether it involves players and their feelings regarding racism or the raging debate regarding the Big Ten opting to postpone the fall season because of COVID-19 concerns while three Power 5 conferences forge on, Howard appreciates the opportunity to discuss them with his "College GameDay" colleagues, Rece Davis, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit.

Former University of Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard signed a multi-year contract extension with ESPN's College GameDay on Thursday.

Howard, the Michigan standout who won the 1991 Heisman Trophy and has been part of ESPN since 2005, has signed a multi-year extension as a college football analyst on "College GameDay," the network announced Thursday. He also will continue to contribute to SportsCenter and College Football Live.

“I’m excited about that. Happy,” Howard told The Detroit News. “It’s been an incredible run, and I’ve been blessed to be with some great teammates. To have that job and to grow with guys like Herbstreit and (Chris) Fowler and Corso, to start off with those guys and to be able to grow and develop and mature into the analyst that I’ve become so far is a blessing.

“That’s the ‘A team’ (laughing). To be a part of that now is special, it’s a blessing.”

Howard, who played at Michigan from 1988-1991, was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011 and saw his No. 21 retired by Michigan in 2015. After being selected fourth overall in the 1992 NFL Draft, he played 11 NFL seasons — including three-plus seasons with the Lions — and was the Super Bowl MVP in 1997.

After retiring from the NFL, Howard, who always had been interested in movies and how they’re made, thought about getting involved in that business. But he had an opportunity to work in television with "The Best Damn Sports Show Period" on Fox in 2003, and thus began his TV career.

While at a Heisman Trophy presentation, Herbstreit suggested Howard check out "GameDay" and be a guest. 

“Yeah, maybe I’ll do it,” Howard said. 

"GameDay" appealed to Howard because it focuses on football and college football issues, not the zany entertainment of the "Best Damn Sports Show Period." He auditioned for an opening on the ESPN show and won the job.

“To be into my 16th year, it’s amazing to see the growth of the sport, the growth of the show,” Howard said. “To be a part of that has been mind-blowing.”

ESPN College GameDay host Lee Corso, second from right, talks with co-hosts Desmond Howard, left, Chris Fowler, second from left, and Kirk Herbstreit, right, during an airing of ESPN's College GameDay in 2013.

This year has been unique, to say the least. "GameDay" typically is held on college campuses with a sea of fans surrounding the set as the crew prepares viewers for the day of college football. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, the show has gone virtual. 

But "GameDay" hasn’t missed a step. 

During what would have been the opening weekend of college football, "GameDay" was on and tackled some of the many issues currently surrounding the game.

Maria Taylor’s piece on racism included a roundtable of college football players, including Michigan’s Hunter Reynolds, who recently helped organize a Black Lives Matter protest on the UM campus, along with Eastern Michigan football players

“I really wish we could extend the talk longer, because there’s a lot to unpack,” Howard said. “I’m very proud of those guys, so proud we have a Michigan guy (Reynolds) up there representing the student-athletes in the fashion he did. My thing is, I hope people are listening to these young men, because these are real-life stories, these are true stories. Even if they don’t experience it, these are things they have to think about when they’re in society where this shouldn’t be an issue for them.”

Herbstreit became emotional and choked up on air while he discussed the segment.

“I was proud of him,” Howard said. “I was glad he was able to express himself, and he let himself express himself, because it’s not easy. I’m proud of him for doing that and thankful, too.”

Then there’s the discussion of the Big Ten and its decision Aug. 11 to postpone fall sports, including football, because of lingering healthy and safety concerns regarding COVID-19. Many critics of the decision have asked why the conference could not delay the decision. Howard said he’d have issues with his sons playing because of the number of African-Americans who have been affected by the virus.

“The conversation at that point on the show was, should we be playing or should we not be playing,” Howard said. “The point I made, there’s not a definite yes or a no. You have medical experts arguing both cases on both sides. Where do you fall as far as which side you’re going to go on, which side you’re going to believe.

“My point was, you have to keep in mind, when you look at the 60 kids who opted, about 80% of those kids who opted out were Black. At the end of the day, whether you think you’re a high draft pick or not, a lot of times it boils down to — if this was a regular year, these people wouldn’t be opting out if it wasn’t for COVID-19. It’s not like they’re saying, ‘Well, you know what, I’m going to get drafted high anyway, so I’m going to sit this year out.’ It was important to bring that up, it’s definitely affecting the Black Americans at an unusually, disproportionately high rate.”

Does he think the Big Ten could have waited?

“That’s a very fair criticism of the Big Ten and the decision they made,” he said. “You could make the same criticism of Larry Scott and the decision the Pac-12 made (the same day as the Big Ten). Maybe things seemed more dire out in California and Arizona at that time, so maybe they said, why wait. I don’t know that they’ve answered that question to the point people are like, ‘OK, I get it.’ Why back then did you feel you need to make that decision at that point? Why didn’t you wait? And that’s a fair question.”

Howard has a home at ESPN and on "GameDay," and he’s pleased he will be there much longer with his new contact. He will continue to offer his analysis on games and issues.

“I’m glad our producers and everyone involved in 'GameDay' that they see the big picture and they allow us to have these voices and have these discussions, because there are other shows that, quite frankly, they won’t have these discussions unless they’re absolutely forced to and then they have no choice,” he said. “I do appreciate that aspect of our show and am proud to be part of it.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis